Why ESA Matters -- Dispatches from ESA supporters who’ve made the right call

Lightning-Fast Safety Response

By Jesse B. Staniforth

Lightning may not strike twice, but striking once is bad enough. Thanks to the diligence of Stageline tech Francis Kopajko, when lightning struck a SAM440 during the leadup preparations for an evening show in Rouyn-Noranda on August 11, the stage had already been evacuated, and no one was hurt.

Mid-afternoon that day, technicians were all over the SAM440, preparing it for day two of the three-day Osisko en Lumière festival, to be headlined that night by Sum 41. The band itself was being interviewed backstage, while rehearsals and final preparations were happening all onstage around them. Kopajko, however, was watching his WeatherOps technology very carefully.

“I was expecting bad weather,” Kopajko says. “It was getting dark a few miles away, and there was some serious rain beginning. I saw some lightning from a few miles off and I got an update on my cell phone from WeatherOps. After that I called the evacuation.”

While Stageline’s Weather Ops have a live meteorologist they can call for a confirmation, Kopajko didn’t wait to talk to an expert before making the call. He had enough experience to trust his gut feeling and start the evacuation.

Unfortunately, with the stage full of different parties—artists, producers, and promoters—not everybody wanted to heed Kopajko’s warning. The show was set to start at 6:00pm and no one wanted to see it delayed.

“People don’t realize when it comes to lightning that it’s dangerous. I had to tell people seven or eight times and be very persuasive. There were eight or nine people onstage, and I had to ask them again and again,” Kopajko says. “Four or five minutes later, the lightning hit—we saw a fireball maybe 20 feet away. It is loud, and it smells like sulphur.”

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The lightning struck the upstage-right corner post and exited through a pipe on an upstage fog machine—and the stage was empty, so everyone was safe.

This was all in line with Stageline’s strict weather threshold policies. We get daily forecasts and text-message alerts from our Weather Decision Technologies’ WeatherOps event-safety service to keep us abreast of wind, weather, and lightning that might threaten the safety of the people on and around a stage. In situations where there is lightning within an 8-mile (12-km) radius of the stage, our policy is always to clear all personnel, period. A stage is by its nature the tallest building in the middle of a vast, wide-open space, and it is full of electronics. For lightning, there is little else as attractive as that. That policy, together with Francis Kopajko’s firm order to evacuate the stage, saved lives.

WeatherOps weather safety expert Dax Cochran agrees. His event-safety service provides Stageline weather updates specifically matched to stage thresholds and triggers for calls like opening windwall doors, removing screens, releasing windwalls, and clearing personnel.

“We’re only able to be successful if our customers are heavily invested in the entire process,” Cochran says. “We can get a lightning alert to anyone in the world, but if they don’t know what to do when they get that alert, that doesn’t mean a lot. We love organizations like Stageline who go the additional mile. They’re not just setting up a weather service as a façade—they’ve got the safety plans and training in place behind it to make the weather information meaningful.”

After all that, of course, the show must go on—and it did. Once Kopajko determined that the weather threat had passed, he sounded the all clear and personnel returned to the stage, certainly a little shaken. There were repairs to make and some delays as a result (opening act Rancoeur unfortunately had their set cancelled), but the doors opened only an hour late. And that’s impressive, but a lot more than that is the knowledge that every person onstage went home safe and unscathed. We’re always proud to make exceptional events happen, but we’re prouder still to say we always make them happen safely.

Live on the Green 2017

By Trey Merritt, Crew Chief, Elite Multimedia

I am crew chief for Elite Multimedia, an audio, lighting, and video production company in Nashville, Tennessee. We provide audio and video services for Live at the Green, a month-long free outdoor concert series held in the city’s Public Square Park. The day prior to kicking off the series’ closing weekend on August 31st, I was approached by the client and production manager concerning our plan to respond to approaching storms resulting from Hurricane Harvey. As a long-time member of the ESA I have studied Emergency Action Plans and have outlined a standard course of action in the event of hazardous conditions.  

For this particular event, allowable wind speeds for both my video walls are provided by [engineering firm] Clark Reder, with wind ratings for the stage provided by the provider. At wind speeds of +20 MPH crews are notified to stand by for dropping and securing video walls.  At wind speeds of +30 MPH both video walls and audio hang are to be flown in. Lightning is monitored, with all crew chiefs placed on standby to clear the deck and any metal structures once lightning breaches a 25 mile perimeter. When lightning is detected within 10 miles all areas are cleared until the threat passes. The client has meteorologist on staff to monitor conditions, along with an active lightning detection system on site and two independent anemometers on site.

On event day, weather was overcast with severe storms expected later in the afternoon. At 3:30 pm we receive our first lightning alert on Weather Scope, roughly 40 miles out. Cloud cover and wind speed increased around 4:00 pm. While our pre-established wind speed thresholds had not been met, we preemptively flew in and secured the video walls before the rain hit. No need to get wet unnecessarily.

The first bands of heavy rain started around 5:00 PM, although no lightning was detected and winds were still well below threshold. However, at approximately 5:15 PM  Detector alerted the crew chiefs to clear the deck. Everyone went to catering and watched as over 1” of rain fell in 15 minutes. The area in front of stage rapidly turned into a lake, and Front of House became an island.

The rain let up at 5:30 PM, and I went to the director’s tent at stage left to power down.  I walked in to discover both camera cases floating in 3” water. Deck crew headed to stage to survey situation while I radioed the Production Manager to discuss pulling video.  Before he could respond tornado sirens sounded throughout the site. The crew and around 100 dedicated audience members were instructed to evacuate to an underground parking area.  Within 10 minutes all personnel, artist, crew, vendors and patrons were below ground and sheltered.

Making the best of an unfortunate situation, the kick off act pulled out guitars and performed an impromptu set as we huddled together waiting for the “all clear” to sound.  The show was eventually called at 6:15 PM, while tornado sirens continued to sound in various parts of Nashville. By 7:15 PM the area was secured for the evening and patrons and various departments were allowed to clear.  

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By all accounts it was a textbook example of how to execute an Emergency Action Plan. At all phases of plan implementation each and every department performed as outlined, without hesitation. Damage was minimal -  one fence blown over, two powered speakers with blown fuses, one lighting fixture damaged, and two video reclock boxes requiring replacement. Most importantly, no one was injured. While not an situation I’d welcome again, it proves the value of the Event Safety Alliance and the organizations focus on contingency planning.  

Have a Success Story you’d like to share? Email us at info@eventsafetyalliance.org

Shelby Cude